14 February 1945 — Wormerveer, Netherlands
The 351st Bomb Group, 508th Bomb Squadron of the Eighth Air Force was based at Station 110, Polebrook, England. Located between Polebrook and Hemington in Northants, this airfield had a 1,950 yard main runway with two intersecting auxiliary runways, one J-type hanger, two T2 hangers, fifty hard stands and living sites for 2,900 personnel dispersed in the woodlands to the north of the station. In April 1943, the B-17 Flying Fortress’ of the group began operations and completed 311 combat missions by the end of the war.
1st Lt. Curtis E. Ash and his crew of the B-17G aircraft 43-38405 with code markings YB-D were assigned to mission 271 on 14 February 1945. The target was the railroad yards at Dresden, Germany. After an early morning briefing, the B-17 took off at 08:19 hours and joined formation with other Flying Fortresses for the flight to Dresden. Unfortunately they would not complete the mission.
Over the Dutch coastline, portions of the formation were off course. The air defenses in this area were weak. However, at about 11:00 hours, Lt. Ash’s plane was hit by flak. They were at an altitude of 19,000 feet when hit by flak from anti-aircraft guns from Ijmuiden. There was damage to the aircraft behind the wing and the radio compartment was on fire. Lt. Ash ordered that the bombs be dropped. Some dropped into the sea and others dropped on the beaches. Lt. Ash called for the crew to bail out but because of the smoke and fire, several of the crewmen were momentarily unconscious and the aircraft was out of control. The aircraft kept losing altitude and flying lower and lower over the towns and villages. Eighteen year old Piet Stelling remembers eye witnessing the large plane. He later stated that “it was fascinating, you could see him coming, a fireball around the plane, I thought I was dreaming, flames coming out of the plane.” Four crewmen managed to jump from the plane near the town of Assendelft. The bombardier was shot by German soldiers as he floated to the ground. He landed north of the Genieweg. He was captured, taken to a barn where he smoked his last cigarette before he died from his wounds and buried in the local cemetery. The aircraft went into a spin with smoke pouring from the cockpit. The plane crashed near Wormerveer, Netherlands.
2nd Lt. Ned Benedict, the co-pilot, later recalled in a 1983 letter: “As our bomber neared the Dutch coast near Egmond at 22,000 feet altitude, we were hit by flak near the radio compartment. The airplane went into a spin to the right. Both pilots attempted to leave the ship but all routes of escape were blocked by fire. Due to lack of oxygen we lost consciousness but regained it in time to avoid a canal passing through a town. We banked to the left and made a wheels-up landing in an open field. Both pilots escaped through their side windows, I fell into shallow water perhaps two feet deep. My waist gunner pulled me to dry ground and soon after I seem to remember people with pitch forks.
The aircraft landed in about two feet of water. The onboard fire was extinguished by the crash landing, saving the crew. Several bombs were still in the bomb bay and several gallons of fuel. The co-pilot was taken from the plane and transported to St. Joseph’s hospital in nearby Appeldoorn. He and the radio operator were liberated by Canadian soldiers on 13 April 1945. Because of his severe burns, Benedict eventually lost his right ear, partial amputation of three fingers on his right hand and his right leg. Lt. Ash, who also suffered severe burns, was taken to “St. Willebrordus stichting” in Heilo and he later became a POW.
The ball turret gunner, engineer, and tail gunner, Louis D. Anderson, all landed south of the river and were taken prisoner.
After the injured crewmen were removed from the damaged aircraft, the Germans removed the 2,600 gallons of fuel, machines and the left over bombs from the wreckage. Three days later, the local town’s people were then allowed to come witness the downed plane. Piet Stelling remembers: “I was there very soon. We rowed the Germans in a boat to the wreck. We took two people out of the wreck. I remember one crewman who threw away a pack of Camel cigarettes. We took them home and dried them on a heater. Smoking that was something different than the parts of cigarettes we picked up from the street to make new ones”
People from everywhere came to take parts of the plane as souvenirs or to use. Members of the First Zaanse Glider Club removed the flight instruments and used them for many years. The technical division of “Wessanen” recovered on the Wright Cyclone engines. Two different local photographers took black and white 8 mm film of the wreckage. One short one minute film by Mr. Desmet can be viewed at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tw9Inn6nI5E. The aircraft in the beginning of the film is not B-17G 43-38405 but removing the engines can be seen at the end of the film.
The second short one minute film can be viewed at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oGcmI09-ASA. Piet Stelling was more interested in the papers found in the wreck. He found a notebook, flight plans and two maps, one of England and one of the area around Dresden. One of the pages in the notebook contained a list of top ten songs in America at the time. On the list were the famous songs, Stomping at the Savoy, St. Louis Blues and My Blue Heaven.
Because co-pilot 2nd Lt. Ned Benedict saved the town from disaster, the community named a road in his honor in 1993, the “Ned Benedictweg”